Not all Android smartphones are created equal. And yet most of the very best models that have ever come out have one common ingredient: the stock Android operating system. Indeed, many of today’s greatest Android phones have been made available with nothing more than the bare bones version of Google’s famed mobile OS. To some users, it’s like the secret sauce. And Google, along with today’s many different Android OEMs, is just all too glad to fulfill the demand.
We have put together a list of all the best Android smartphones running stock Android, with models coming from big name OEMs as well as some not-so-popular ones. If you can’t stand anything other than the stock version of Android on your phone and you’d like to see what kind of options you have, then this is the list that you are looking for. Read on to get started.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll gladly say it again: the LG Nexus 4 is one of the best Android smartphones ever due to the fact that it offers the latest and greatest software in a package that combines killer specs, a crisp and very pleasing display, and a familiar design aesthetic. The Nexus 4 is basically the result of putting together all the great features originally found in the Nexus phones that came before it, and making them all greater. It’s the culmination of Google’s Nexus efforts (so far) and truly deserves to be considered royalty among all Android handsets.
It isn’t without faults, though. You can’t add storage space to it via microSD cards, you can’t use it to listen to FM radio (unless you do it over the Internet), and it doesn’t support 4G LTE. Still, if timely system software updates matter much more to you, this is one of the best phones you can get.
The biggest difference between this and the original Samsung Galaxy S4 is the use of stock Android and Google-issued updates in the place of Samsung’s own TouchWiz UI and carrier updates. This major change got a lot of people’s attention, and for good reason. It’s practically a dream come true for those who enjoy top-notch hardware but can do without unneeded “bloat” often added by either carriers or the OEMs themselves.
So if it’s such a great phone, why isn’t everyone lining up to get it and Samsung still bothers to release new ones? Well, for one thing, it hasn’t been released yet. Also, it’s being sold at a premium over the standard one — $650 a piece. And that is what will likely keep a lot of people from buying it. That, and the earlier mentioned fact that it lacks TouchWiz. Yes, people that like it do still exist. And they enjoy their extra features just fine.
As soon as the Galaxy S4 Google Edition was officially announced, people began speculating that the flagship HTC One could be given the exact same treatment, too. And then it was. Now it belongs to this list of the best phones running stock Android, and we’re not complaining.
The HTC One Google Edition benefits from the award-winning design and innovations found in the standard model, while also taking full advantage of the Google Nexus experience. You really can’t go wrong with it, unless your aim is to not spend so much on your next phone. In which case, you might want to check up on alternatives, because it’s also priced higher than five Benjamins like its Samsung counterpart.
We know, Sony still hasn’t officially announced such a phone yet. But we believe that it’s no longer a question of if, but when. We know that Sony is capable of delivering such a phone — it created the Xperia Z AOSP back in April. So we’re really counting on an official Xperia Z Google Edition release very soon.
In case you need a refresher on what kind of phone a Nexus-ified version of the Xperia Z will be, remember that the standard model comes with a Full HD 5-inch display, a fast and powerful quad-core CPU, and a 13.1-megapixel HDR-capable camera — all of which is packed into a casing that’s both dust tight and waterproof up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes.
Are people getting frustrated that the official Google Edition Xperia Z still hasn’t been outed by Sony yet? You bet. But at least we all know it will be worth the wait.
The Coolpad 8920 first caught our attention at CTIA 2013. Based on what we know about it so far, it delivers a slightly more premium feel than Coolpad’s own Quattro series of phones. It stands out among many of today’s lesser known China-based smartphone models because it has a full 5-inch HD screen and it uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 Pro. It’s worth a look if you plan on using a smartphone in China, or you’re already with either China Unicom or China Mobile.
Archos is one brand that we don’t mention enough around here. It may not be among the top Android handset makers in the world right now, but one thing we know for sure is that whenever we take at its latest creations, we end up admitting that they aren’t that bad at all. Case in point: its latest Carbon and Platinum series phones. Archos made three new Google-certified phones to try and meet the needs of not just the entry-level segment but the high-end segment as well.
The Carbon 35 is Archos’ weapon of choice for the entry-level. It has very basic features and a very affordable price tag. Again what truly sets it apart from many of today’s other new entry-level phones is the fact that it comes with the stock Android OS — albeit one version late.
And as for the Archos Platinum handsets, their purpose is to hit phablet makers like Samsung where it hurts: price-wise. Both the Archos 50 Platinum and Archos 53 Platinum come with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and they’re sure to excite those who want phone screens to be as big as possible.
The BLU Vivo 4.3 smartphone received its long-awaited Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update a couple of months ago, and this only cemented its status as one of the best Android phones that you’ve (possibly) never heard of. It has pretty modest specs compared with the others listed on this page, but due to its use of the stock Android OS, it’s worth more than just a cursory look.
Apart from the software, the BLU Vivo 4.3 is also noteworthy for the fact that it’s available in a total of four different color variants. Of course, in a world where the use of third-party cases has become the norm, this won’t matter much to some people. But for those who still believe in colors and whatever they’re supposed to be representing, this easily puts the choice — no, the power — right into your hands.
While certainly not an Android-powerhouse, the HTC First is still worthy of your attention because of the software that it comes with. And no, we’re not referring to Facebook Home. We’re talking about the fact that the HTC First, after a few minor adjustments, can be made to run a virtually untouched version of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. And even in a 4.3-inch phone, that’s something.
The problem with the HTC First is that you may soon find it very difficult to find it, much less buy one for yourself. Facebook has already pulled the plug on it and cancelled all UK pre-orders, plus the public’s reception of the handset has generally been very chilly. So if you’ve been putting off the decision to buy one now, you may soon regret it. Especially since the price has has already been cut down from $99 to only a single cent on contract.
Announced earlier this week, the Sprint Vital joins the ranks of literally dozens of other new handsets that seem to be getting announced every single day. What makes it different from the rest is that it uses Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean in a way that “keeps the Android experience closer to the way it was intended,” according to Sprint. If the real Android experience is what you’re after, this can only be a good thing.
The OEM behind the Sprint Vital is none other than China-based ZTE. It has had ample experience making impressive 5-inch handsets in the past, so things are looking good for this particular model.
Vote in our poll or tell us in the comments if we missed any good stock Android phone.